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. Iran wants talks on nuclear program 'without any preconditions'
BERLIN, June 24 (AFP) Jun 24, 2006
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Saturday that Tehran wanted to resume talks on its disputed nuclear program but "without any preconditions".

Mottaki told reporters after talks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin that Iran was "by no means isolated" in its desire to pursue uranium enrichment, despite growing international pressure for it to abandon sensitive nuclear work.

He said Iran was "very seriously studying" a package offered by the five permanent UN Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany to peacefully resolve the crisis over its nuclear ambitions.

Mottaki said he saw "very positive points" in the proposal but also "ambiguities".

He spoke with Steinmeier for about two hours at a government guest house in the posh southern suburb of Dahlem and not at the foreign ministry in central Berlin.

The meeting, which Mottaki initiated, came amid mounting suspense over Tehran's response to an incentive package offered if it stops enriching uranium.

Steinmeier said the international community needed clarity "very quickly" on Iran's intentions, adding that "the suspension of uranium enrichment would create an auspicious environment" for a return to the negotiating table.

He said it was important to find "a lasting balance between the legitimate right for civilian use of atomic energy and the justified concerns of the international community".

The international proposal promises incentives and multilateral talks if Iran agrees to temporarily halt uranium enrichment activities at the heart of fears the hardline regime could develop nuclear weapons.

Tehran insists the work is only to provide fuel for nuclear energy.

Diplomats say Tehran was asked to answer by June 29, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday the Islamic republic would take until August 22 to reply.

Mottaki and Steinmeier indicated that a meeting between Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who delivered the world powers' proposal to Tehran June 6, could take place next week.

Javad Vaidi, deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, had said Friday that suspending uranium enrichment would be neither a precondition for talks with the world powers on its nuclear activities nor an outcome of those discussions.

"Iran considers that suspension is neither a precondition to nor the result of negotiations," Vaidi told AFP.

Germany is part of the so-called EU-3 along with Britain and France which has been working for more than two years to try to resolve the crisis with Iran and most recently, foster a consensus on the issue with the United States, China and Russia.

Berlin has long-standing diplomatic relations and strong economic ties with Iran, which diplomats say has given it a key role in the negotiations.

About 30 members of Germany's large Iranian exile community called a demonstration Saturday against Mottaki outside the meeting's venue.

Two football World Cup matches by the Iranian football team were met by protests by Jewish groups in Germany over Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and calls for the destruction of Israel.

The players left Germany Friday after taking last place in Group D.

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